coronavirus

Pritzker Predicts Coronavirus Peak. What Will That Mean for Illinois Schools?

Schools across the state remain closed through April, but there's still plenty of uncertainty surrounding whether classes will be allowed to resume in May

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker estimates a peak in the number of coronavirus cases could be coming soon, but what will that mean for Illinois schools?

Schools across the state remain closed through April, but there's still plenty of uncertainty surrounding whether classes will be allowed to resume in May.

When asked Thursday if schools would be closed through the end of the school year, Pritzker offered little to quell parents' concerns, but did provide his first glimpse at when the state's cases could peak.

"As we enter a peak period, sometime we think in the later half of April, and as we start to come off that peak we'll make some decisions about what does May look like," Pritzker said.

Questions over when Illinois will reach its peak number of cases have been circulating for weeks with few answers.

Some residents hope it could happen soon, assuming a peak would be followed by a sharp decline in cases and an indication that the state is finally on the road to recovery.

But that might not be how it unfolds.

"Just because you hit a peak doesn't mean you're going to fall precipitously to zero," Pritzker said Friday. "Once we get to that peak we're all gonna be praying that we come off that peak quickly, but we might not...we might be flattened at that peak."

Pritzker had previously said the goal is to instead "bend the curve" of cases to relieve some of the pressure on area hospitals.

"The whole idea is that we keep patients safe at home if they don’t need to be at a hospital, or hospitalized if they need, but we really don’t want people to get this in the first place so we can keep them away from hospitals and manage through this. We want people to get it over some period of time," he said.

Illinois' stay-at-home order was extended Tuesday until April 30, but Pritzker noted that timing remains unclear, adding "there's no perfect model to look at."

"The truth is we don’t know when we’re going to peak," he said. "Everybody is taking their best educated look at what date seems appropriate and this seems like the best educated guess they’ve come up with."

March 31 briefing: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of the state’s stay-at-home order.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she anticipates the city may peak within one to two weeks.

"By no means are we out of the woods," Lightfoot said. "We've been following very closely a number of different data points... but what I'll say is this: we know that we are not at the peak and we're probably at least one to two weeks away from that, depending on what we see in the data on a day-to-day basis."

But questions over how high cases will go remain unanswered.

"We are still in the throes of this virus and I don't want to mislead people, but we are following the data very very closely not on just a day-by-day but really an hour-by-hour basis," she said. "I don't want anyone to take from this that there's a light at the end of the tunnel - it's a pinprick not a light."

Her comments echo those made by Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who noted that an increase in cases will likely come along with an increase in testing and it remains too early to know if social distancing guidelines are slowing the city's numbers.

Arwady noted city cases have shifted from doubling every two days to every four days.

"But think about what doubling every four days means when you have 2,600 cases," she said Wednesday. "We need to get to the point where we're seeing doubling over."

The mayor had previously said the city is preparing for upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations in the coming weeks and U.S. health experts worry Cook County could become one of the nation's next hotspots.

"Forty thousand hospitalizations. Not 40,000 cases, but 40,000 people who require acute care in a hospital setting," Lightfoot said last week. "That number will break our healthcare system... This will push our city to the brink."

Health officials warn that a continued increase in patients threatens to overwhelm state hospitals, healthcare workers and first responders.

Although the number of new cases reported Monday and Tuesday were lower than those seen Sunday, both Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that is not an indication that cases in the state are slowing.

Already, the state is bringing back online once-shuttered hospitals and working to prepare Chicago's McCormick Place convention center into an alternate care facility for patients with mild symptoms.

In New York, where coronavirus cases skyrocketed, overwhelming city and state healthcare facilities, April may not mark the corner turn many had hoped for.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the rate of doubling has slowed, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is still warning that April will be worse than March and May could be worse than April.

Epidemiologists at the the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health wrote on Twitter that the first sign NYC has turned a corner will come when the curve has "a sufficiently negative slope for at least 10-14 days." But even still, they noted, "a reintroduction of virus, perhaps from outside, could re-launch a second event and change the slope."

On a national level, President Donald Trump extended restrictive social distancing guidelines through April as well.

Trump acknowledged that he may be forced to extend the guidelines again at the end of April, but expressed hope that by June 1, "we should be well on our way to recovery."

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